The people have spoken, and the votes are in for the Old Mission Peninsula. Yesterday’s primary election resulted in a clean sweep of incumbent Peninsula Township officers, including the supervisor, clerk, treasurer and trustees. The new officers include:
- Township Supervisor: Rob Manigold
- Township Clerk: Joanne Westphal
- Township Treasurer: Brad Bickle
- Township Trustees: Margaret Achorn, Maura Sanders, Warren Wahl and Isaiah Wunsch
Check out the vote-counts and official election results here.
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The newly-elected officers, who ran together as a team, participated in a series of interviews in which they outlined their visions for Peninsula Township. Here are a few of their thoughts.
ROB MANIGOLD, PENINSULA TOWNSHIP SUPERVISOR:
On the importance of the Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program: The rural character, clean water and scenic views are the reasons we all live in this paradise. Over the last 25 years, residents have developed a strong Master Plan and zoning ordinances to protect the quality of life here that we have all come to enjoy. They must be followed. We were the first small unit of government in the United States to implement a Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) Program funded by property tax revenue that a large majority of residents supported. The PDR program has protected more than 6,000 acres in perpetuity, and many of those easements capture and protect the scenic views forever. Without the PDR Program, coming home from town would not be the same. I don’t want to imagine what going over Underwood Hill or stopping at the Scenic Turnout near Chateau Grand Traverse would look like. The job is not over; we still have work to do as a community. We also need to commend The Old Mission Peninsula Historical Society, Peter Dougherty Society, and the Lighthouse group for their timeless endeavors.
On the poor handling of “The 81” Development: As a farmer, I am a strong property rights advocate and believe a person has the right to develop their property in accordance with the Master Plan and zoning ordinances. “The 81 Project” was handled poorly by the Town Board. When our own residents sue us for not following our Master Plan and zoning ordinances, we have real problems. It is not fair to our taxpayers paying the legal bills, nor to the developer. I would not have passed “The 81” with multiple contingencies. I would have opened up a dialogue between the developer and the community to try and find the common ground, worked with the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy to place a conservation easement on the agricultural component, and developed a funding source to help the developer work to meet his business plan while reducing the number of houses.
On supporting the Peninsula Township Fire Department: I support the independence of the Peninsula Township Fire Department. The current Fire personnel have told me that several local residents have approached the Fire Department to join but have been denied because the money isn’t in the budget. If I ever have to call the Fire Department for an emergency, I want someone who knows where Peninsula Drive is located, not have to look for it on GPS. Support your remaining fire staff. They need our help.
JOANNE WESTPHAL, PENINSULA TOWNSHIP CLERK:
On large-scale developments on the Old Mission Peninsula: When the Port of Old Mission first applied for its special use permit, township officials were initially skeptical of its zero lot line concept and clustered single-family residential layout. Today, it is one of the most beautiful large-scale developments on the Peninsula. It illustrates that “large” does not have to translate into “ugly,” “environmentally damaging,” or “visually obtrusive.” We have had a number of other large-scale developments that have gone the other way, and I would like to see fewer of these developments in the future. The key is whether or not the developer and township officials/staff can address the concerns of the surrounding community and the physical limitations of the site in a creative, positive manner. In the end, the ultimate test will be whether the proposed development “protects the health, safety, and welfare of the general public.”
On the possible closing of Old Mission Peninsula School: Grade schools serve more than the student body that attends them. They are an integral part of a community’s identity. In the case of the Old Mission Peninsula School, it is also the home of our local library … a gathering place where neighbors come for book clubs, lectures, special events, and inter-generational programs. It would be a shame to lose this valuable resource in our community. The gesture of the anonymous donor to support OMPS is appreciated. However, it will be important to clearly understand the contingencies upon which the donation will be made. And of course, we must consider the practical matter of what would happen once the $800,000 is depleted.
On citizen committees and the planning process: I would employ an earlier master planning process that organized citizen committees, based on interest and/or affiliation (i.e., commerce/business, farming, the environment, the parks, neighborhood associations, etc.). This process asked citizens to provide direct input to the planning process. Other processes involved citizen surveys, 3-dimensional model simulations, case studies that asked residents to engage in “best or worst” case scenarios pertaining to growth on the Peninsula, and expert witness interviews. All of this was done to gauge citizen sentiment in the decision-making process at the township level. I would support a similar engagement strategy to rebuild community involvement in township affairs and to clarify the “vision” for the Peninsula. Irrespective of the purpose for the involvement, all township activities and deliberations should be recorded, reported upon fully, catalogued, and archived for easy access by the general public at the Peninsula Community Library and Town Hall.
BRAD BICKLE, PENINSULA TOWNSHIP TREASURER:
On adhering to the Master Plan: Old Mission Peninsula is truly a special place framed by its rural character of scenic views, clean water and much natural beauty of the four seasons, which we are truly fortunate to experience and call home. Our Master Plan provides the guidelines, and zoning ordinances must reflect that Plan to maintain a reasonable balance of conservancy and logical growth. Achieving the vision for the future of Peninsula Township requires an ongoing commitment by Township elected officials to uphold and adhere to the Master Plan as our “driving document” for the future of conserving our beauty and logical growth, which I commit to do while serving in the office of Treasurer.
On giving the Fire Chief latitude and reducing micromanagement of the Fire Department: I support maintaining our local fire and emergency services, and I have been talking to many Peninsula residents who feel the same way. In reviewing a couple of past proposals, I have noted some interesting and reasonable ideas developed for modernizing the basic equipment and housing available to our Fire Department, but none seem to have ever gotten past the talking phase, due to the increasingly toxic relationship between the Fire Department, the Fire Board, and the current Town Board. We need to consider a real and simple solution: our Fire Chief should have a great deal of professional latitude, and should work and communicate directly with the Town Board to reduce micromanagement and indecision. Our Town Board should increase focus on addressing the intermediate and long-term needs of our residents’ Fire and Emergency Service requirements. As Treasurer, I will explore new and overlooked sources of funding for the Fire Department from State and Federal grants.
On transparency in Peninsula Township government: The first mission is to change the culture of the Township from an environment of working in “the dark” back to being a place for our residents to feel welcomed and the first stop for reference and resource to their questions or needs. I have met with many residents over the past many months, and this has been the most common observation … [the newly-elected officers] are committed to this change of current “dark” culture and returning to a time a few years back when, for many years led by Rob Manigold as Supervisor, the Township was very transparent and engaged the residents actively in the decision-making process for projects that would impact neighbors and our landscape for many decades.
WARREN WAHL, PENINSULA TOWNSHIP TRUSTEE:
On setting goals and adhering to mandated protocols: I plan to work diligently with the Township Board to establish set goals for Peninsula Township. These goals will include setting a budget, planning for the future, reviewing the Master Plan every five years as mandated, and keeping the community informed to the best of our abilities. I strongly support maintaining rural character, but am not opposed to regulated growth that follows the Master Plan and zoning ordinances.
On keeping Old Mission Peninsula residents informed: A community newsletter would be a great start. This will help educate the residents of current issues. In addition, improvements to the current Township’s website could help promote communication, transparency, and provide the necessary documents that residents need to be fully informed.
MARGARET ACHORN, PENINSULA TOWNSHIP TRUSTEE:
On protecting farms and scenic vistas on the Old Mission Peninsula: In 1983, when I first traversed along the rural roads of Peninsula Township exploring its nooks and crannies, breathing in the country smells, magnificent views and quiet peacefulness, I knew this was where I wanted to live the rest of my days. In the intervening 30 years, I have seen increased commercialization and housing developments in places where orchards and vineyards once made patchwork designs on the landscape … I support and will work to conserve and protect additional agricultural acreage, working farms and scenic vistas so that we can retain the quiet rural qualities that we love. Yet, I am fearful that special interests will continually try to convert our valuable agricultural and natural lands into more houses and commercial endeavors.
On the Bowers Harbor Park expansion: I envision ONE Bowers Harbor Park which encompasses both the original park and the expansion areas. I see family-friendly portions (mainly in the original park area) since the ball diamonds, soccer fields, tennis courts, paved walking path and picnic pavilions are already established there. Of course, the large playground equipment area would need to be replaced with freshly-designed play structures appropriate for today’s youth and constructed with modern, environmentally-safe materials. I see passive areas and walking trails, nature viewing, bird watching and other quiet areas (mainly in the expansion area) because of the topography, wetlands and environmental challenges present there. So, I envision family-friendly, active and passive areas. It is during this visioning process that the entire community will be invited to be involved to make the Bowers Harbor Park one that the entire community will utilize and be proud of for many years to come.
On protecting the interests of Old Mission Peninsula residents: Firstly, in order for a community to be engaged, it must be informed. It will be our job to find various and multiple avenues of communication to reach the entire community. It is our responsibility to inform the community – to let them know what is happening in the Township, that we welcome their input and will respect open dialogue. Meeting minutes will reflect what transpired. Secondly, we must follow through to prove to the community that we do seriously consider what they have taken the time to analyze and communicate to us. Once we prove ourselves through actions, I am hopeful there will be ongoing public involvement, because the Board’s decisions impact the entire community. We are already researching the Township’s software to find opportunities for meaningful reporting and financial transparency. As Trustee, it will be my fiduciary duty to promote and protect the interests of the public.
MAURA SANDERS, PENINSULA TOWNSHIP TRUSTEE:
On maintaining the rural character of the Old Mission Peninsula: I support maintaining the rural character of Old Mission Peninsula. It is the reason my husband and I chose Old Mission after military retirement. This is a special and unique place that needs to be preserved in both character and rural charm, along with conscientiously balanced development. My vision for the future is maintaining the special characteristics we have (agriculture, historic preservation, park land and the natural environment) while allowing for development that follows the zoning ordinances dictated by the Master Plan, for both development and/or re-development.
On welcoming public input at Peninsula Township meetings: I believe that the public has a voice. Outside of surveying for public input on many different improvement and long-range topics, the residents are entitled to know what is going on at the Township level. A quarterly newsletter is one very obvious avenue to deliver news. Another format is the welcoming of public input at both meetings and via mail, email and/or office visits. Transparency is a major factor in all forms of government. It is our responsibility, as elected officials, to provide the maximum amount of reporting back to our citizens. Our meeting minutes, for all Township meetings, need to be clearly detailed and inclusive of all discussion and comments that transpired during a public meeting.
ISAIAH WUNSCH, PENINSULA TOWNSHIP TRUSTEE:
On consistency in Old Mission Peninsula developments: I believe that we must enforce our rules consistently – it is not fair to create advantages or disadvantages for certain business owners due either to the charisma of the applicant or the scenic value of a particular parcel. However, I am generally opposed to additional large scale developments, and would seek to use Purchase of Development Rights and other market-based programs to limit major new developments. I believe that it is important for the Township Board to be proactive rather than reactive about land use decisions, and it seems like our tendency of late has been to react too late to major development proposals.
On why Peninsula Township needs to retain its own fire department: I support maintaining a strong and independent fire department in Peninsula Township for two key reasons. First, my research shows that rural fire needs are different from urban fire needs and that optimization of rural fire requires a balance of professional and volunteer firefighters. Our current Town Board allowed the volunteer firefighters to be more or less disbanded, which is contrary to best practices for rural fire departments. We don’t need to try to push a round peg through a square hole by contracting with City Fire – rather, we need to bring back the volunteers and other practices consistent with the needs of a best-in-class rural fire department. Second, contracting with City Fire could trigger a substantial increase in taxes in exchange for a stagnant or reduced level of service, with very little local control to resolve issues. Peninsula Fire provided great service at a relatively low cost until very recently, and I think that a change in management could return us to those results.